‘The old guy’ graduates with an MBA — at age 74

Tue, 05/12/2009 - 4:18pm
By: The Citizen

The first cohort of Clayton State University’s Masters in Business Administration (MBA) graduated on Saturday, May 9.

Although all 31 MBA graduates accomplished a notable milestone, none were more notable than that of Fayetteville’s Ernest Coward, at the age of 74, the oldest student to earn a Clayton State MBA.

Long before joining the procession at the university’s spring commencement ceremonies, Coward was a bit apprehensive about returning to school.

“All these people will be my grandchildren’s age,” he said at the time he matriculated into the first Clayton State MBA cohort. “And I’ll be the old guy.”

Actually, Coward’s history with Clayton State goes back to when the university was still a junior college, when he took courses in computer programming through the Division of Continuing Education.

“I’ve been coming here for years taking community courses,” Coward says.

After originally studying chemistry in Alabama more than 50 years ago, Coward decided to go into the service as the Korean War was ending. However, he promised his mother that he would go back to college.

“I got patriotic one weekend, and joined the Navy flight school,” he says. “I spent four years flying helicopters, and after I came out I joined the Air Force Reserve and flew for 12 years.”

Coward then continued his journey as a manufacturer, producing things like cosmetics, lingerie and gloves. He retired after 38 years in business.

“After I retired and did all the things I wanted to do, played all the golf I wanted to play, I decided that I needed to do something constructive,” he says. “Seven months after I retired, I called Clayton State University to ask about the possibility of returning to school. The lady on the phone replied, ‘If you get me your transcripts you can start in two weeks!’”

As a result, Coward did not have time to back out. Initially he wanted pursue a chemistry degree; however, he learned that the university did not offer that degree. Undaunted, he turned to the School of Business.

“Between Dr. Jacob Chacko, dean of School of Business, and Dr. Michael Deis, director of the MBA program, and my personal instructor, I decided Clayton State University was the place to be,” he says.

Coward was surprised how his fellow MBA candidates migrated towards him, and how interested they were in his past experiences.

“So many of them wanted to hear about how things were many years ago, because I graduated from high school in 1952,” he says. “As you can see, I am no spring chicken.

“Getting back into the gear of things was challenging since I had been out of school for almost 40 years. Refreshing my memory, managing study time, and being ready for a test, those were somewhat challenging.”

However, since Coward had managed to keep up with technology, the university’s laptop requirement didn’t hold him back.

“I grew up with computers. I came up during the time when you had to write your own software,” he says. “I challenged myself to learn how to work a computer.”

Following his graduation, Coward is a strong advocate for the university and the School of Business.

“This campus and professors are great. The School of Business is unbelievable!” he exclaims. “The university is full of professors who have world and academic experience. You get Ivy League schooling for an economical price.

“The most memorable moment for me is how I have been accepted. If Clayton State University offered a doctorate, I would keep going.”

A unit of the University System of Georgia, Clayton State University is an outstanding comprehensive metropolitan university located 15 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta.

— John Shiffert, Director of University Relations

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Shelby Barker's picture
Submitted by Shelby Barker on Wed, 05/13/2009 - 9:49pm.

Congratulations Mr. Coward. You have set a great example for both the older and younger populations. Great job!

-Shelby Barker

Submitted by freespeech on Wed, 05/13/2009 - 11:50am.

Congrats on a job well done, Ernest! What a nice story.

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